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Queens Cemetery Celebrates the Macabre With Victorian Funeral Party

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | April 26, 2013 6:56am

QUEENS — Imagine being buried alive.

If you lived during Victorian times, that was a real possibility and fear. This and other funeral fears are among the customs of the era that will be on display at a Kew Gardens cemetery Saturday as part of a Victoriana Day complete with costumes, music from the era and a funeral tea party.

There will also be a walking tour around Maple Grove, a cemetery that has been around since 1875.

The presentation “will look at Taphophobia, the fear of being buried alive, which was a prominent fear during the Victorian Era,” said Carl Ballenas, president of the Friends of Maple Grove, who co-authored a book about the cemetery and teaches history at the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates.

Ballenas said he found an article from 1886 about Emma Brown, an 8-year-old girl, who may have been buried alive at Maple Grove.

“In that period, there were so many contagious diseases, that doctors were so afraid that many times all they did was come to the house, take a quick look, sign a death certificate and run right out,” Ballenas said.

But in some cases people woke up, he added.

“That’s why they had the wake,” Ballenas said. “And the reason it was called the wake is because you would look at the body for a couple of days hoping that the man or woman would wake up.”

During the event, there will also be a discussion on Victorian mourning clothing which, Ballenas said, was a huge business at the time. A model will be dressed in full Victorian mourning attire with a black hooped dress, black gloves, umbrella, jewelry and veil.

There will also be a display of Victorian jewelry for the funeral time, including black jet glass beaded necklaces and lockets with photographs and locks of hair.

The exhibit will include tear vials that were used to collect the tears of those at the funeral. Its evaporation would signal the end of the mourning period.

And participants will go on a walking tour to take a look at the Victorian funeral symbols found on many of the Maple Grove monuments, from flowers to angels and upside down torches, Ballenas said.

The event will end with a Victorian funeral tea during which attendees will sample dishes served traditionally during funerals at that time, including raisin pie, prune cake and caraway seed muffins.

The tea will be accompanied by elegiac music commonly heard during the era, including a trumpet player performing the "Taps" melody, often played at military funerals, Ballenas said.

Victoriana Day will take place on Saturday, April 27, from 2:30-5 p.m. The Center at Maple Grove is located at 127-15 Kew Gardens Rd., Kew Gardens, N.Y. 11415.

There is limited seating and tickets are $35 for non-members, $25 for members. For more information, call 347-878-6614 or go to www.friendsofmaplegrove.org.